“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
—Joseph Goebbels, German Minister of Propaganda, 1933–1945
Gov. Blagojevich’s Illinois’ fiscal 2007 budget took effect July 1, and even though he says it’s balanced, we know it’s a lie. General assembly members know better—they wink, snicker, and hang their heads when they hear the governor’s team deny their sins of omission. Members of Blagojevich’s own party are reluctant participants in his budget-making charades game.
The legislature again approved a budget based on ignoring pension obligations, delaying vendor payments, manipulating fund balances by denying responsibilities, transferring funds indiscriminately, and diverting revenue from special-purpose funds. The most significant diversion continues to be hundreds of millions of road funds being used to fund government operations instead of highway construction. For the third consecutive year, the general assembly failed to agree on a statewide capital program to fund road and school construction projects. It’s peak construction season, and there’s almost no major road work going on outside the Chicago area because of failure to pass a bonding bill and continued diversions of nearly $3 billion from the state’s highway fund.
I’m offended every time a government spokesperson explains “fund sweeps” as claims on excess balances. In truth, they represent a deliberate decision by the administration to deny responsibility to spend money on statutorily designated purposes. If there’s a fund balance, either the fee rate is too high or the revenue’s intended purpose has been satisfied. The dishonest budgeting routine in Springfield reveals a credit card mentality—buy now, pay later—that’s mortgaging our children’s future. Illinois’ unfunded pension liability exceeds $40 billion. It’s among the highest in the U.S., is rapidly escalating, and bears huge long-term consequences. Under Blagojevich, general obligation bond debt has nearly tripled to around $21 billion. Medicaid programs have expanded, and spending is up almost 30 percent.
Although FY07 tax revenues are estimated to grow by $937 million—3.5 percent over FY06—authorized general funds appropriations grew by $1.4 billion. Perpetuating this revenue/spending imbalance has spawned creative approaches to supplementing tax receipts. New this year were proposals to sell some of the state’s college loan portfolio, to lease the Illinois Toll Highway Authority, to license operations of the Illinois Lottery, and to enter public-private partnerships to construct and operate new toll roads. These proposals reprise the theme of “obtain cash today—someone else will inherit the consequences.”
In this last round of budget building, minority party members were totally excluded from involvement in allocating the state’s $56 billion budget. The lack of participation, cooperation, transparency, and information-sharing among even our elected representatives is troubling. It appears our leaders have little time or interest for public input in Illinois lawmaking. When it becomes acceptable for so few people to be engaged in the legislature’s most important task, members of the general assembly should be embarrassed to take their pay: they no longer represent their constituents. We don’t need more pawns in Springfield. We need a revolt. IBI